Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 5 of 11)

Closing All the Borders

I focus on the southern border because Canadians do not tend to emigrate in mass to the US, being rather disdainful of their loud and agitated American cousins. Canadians also guard their border rather competently. Moreover, the southern border is the access route for a potential hundreds of millions of destitute people from Latin America. It may be also that it’s becoming increasingly the entry point for many others from underdeveloped countries everywhere, including terrorists. That would be because the countries of Latin America do not guard their own borders rigorously, as a rule. Violent jihadists from Yemen can easily enter Mexico as tourists, for instance. (Maria Anastasia O’Grady reports in the Wall Street Journal of 4/26/21 that 20,000 “undocumented immigrants” entered Panama through its physically very rough southern border in 2020. She says the number appears to be increasing in 2021. She asserts also that these migrants largely originate from outside continental Latin America.)

Closing our southern border is not that difficult in principle. Former President Trump showed the way. A physical wall supplemented in places by sophisticated electronic devices (especially in remote areas where allowing wild life to circulate between the US and Mexico forbids a solid wall) would work fine. This can probably be done at a long term cost that compares favorably to the expenses occasioned right now, for example (April 2021) by the necessity to deal in a panic mode with large immigrant surges. What’s required is the political will to do so. It has been lacking for a long time in a large fraction of the US population or, at least, the Democratic Party thinks so.

If the political will to enforce the border were more widespread, we would find penalties against employers of illegal immigrants imposed more frequently and systematically than is the case now. The penalties applied to employers would also be high enough to be more frightening to them. We also indicate our lack of collective seriousness by keeping low the personal penalties imposed for illegal border crossing. It’s now a misdemeanor associated with a $50 to $250 fine. This is not much to people – even poor people – who pay thousands for help crossing the border.

There is a second border issue that almost never makes the news. It’s likely that as many immigrants, and as many illegal immigrants come by plane and even by ship as walk or drive across the southern border. Controlling these should not, in principle, be difficult either. It has long been the practice to hold carriers who bring travelers to the country responsible for their possessing a proper visa. Presumably, the practice has withstood legal challenges. It could be enlarged to make carrier responsible also for foreign visitors not overstaying their visas. There is no reason why the carriers could not be compensated for this service. Tax credits come to mind. It would be cheaper than any other, civil service-based, solution.

We now have a kind of system of randomly open borders. It’s probably possible to bring sufficient numbers of citizens and of their elected reps to agree that there is border and that it should normally stay closed through a Grand Bargain on immigration. First, the Republican Party should come forward finally to solve the problem of illegal residents brought to the US by their parents when they were children (the so-called “Dreamers”). This continuing issue is a blotch on American honor, to my mind.

The Republican Party could also offer to trade cooperation on the matter of closing the border against the acceptance of greatly increased numbers of refugees and asylees. (Those who want to be here and whom we don’t necessarily want.) The Republican Party has nowhere to go but up in this respect anyway. Those refugees admitted in 2019 and in 2020 were a ridiculously low number for a US population of about 320 million. There were a total of 76,00 refugees and asylees admitted in 2019; only 18,000 refugees were permitted in 2020; I have no information about the number of asylees in the same year. (The Biden administration announced in mid April 2021 that the cap on numbers of refugees would remain the same as in 2020. Then he seemed to walk the position back. As of this writing, we don’t know what his administration will do. Does it?) By way of comparison, Canada admitted 102,000 refuges in 2018. Its population is 37 million. Germany with a population four times smaller than ours took in 101,000 refugees in 2019. Tiny Switzerland admitted almost as many. These figures are for illustration only. One must keep in mind that refugee admissions numbers can vary greatly from year to year depending on geopolitical events.

In general, the recipe for success in controlling nation-states’ borders is straightforward: Keep the doors closed until there is a legal reason to open them. Be clear and thorough about what legal reasons are. Don’t confuse again pity and necessity. This formula does not solve the problem of walk-in refugees who avoid legal entry points. A wall largely supplemented by making all applications take place outside the country – with a few exceptions – would solve that problem. I deal with this issue [here] under: “A Different Way to Process Refugees:…”

[Editor’s note: this is Part 5 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 4 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

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